Boost House: An Interview with Steve Roggenbuck
Since Steve Roggenbuck put out i am like october when i’m dead in 2010, he has become well-known in the “alt lit” internet culture, primarily for his humorous/motivational vlogs (VLOG LIEF).
He has just released a new book called IF YOU DON’T LOVE THE MOON YOUR AN ASSHOLE, whose title illustrates his often deliberate breaking of grammatical (& other) conventions. Steve has also recently created Boost House, which will serve as both a house/residency & a publishing house in Maine. In Steve’s words, the intentions of BH are as follows:
boost house will be a powerful force for uniting alt humor with positive spirituality and social conscience on a mass scale. boost house will revive youth interest in literature by fusing poetry to a broader cultural purpose of creating positive social change, and trying hard to help others. alt aesthetics should be a signpost for alt politics—for anti-oppression and environmental justice-boost house will strengthen these connections.
With his idiosyncratic blend of overt optimism, Buddhist underpinnings, & vegan/”anti-oppression” politics, he often uses humor to “boost” people, & claims to care less about his work (which sprawls across different mediums) & more about having a positive impact on people’s lives.
FANZINE: Your new book begins with this statement: “This generation needed a hero, and here I am.” How playful/serious is this? Do you view yourself as a cultural hero?
STEVE ROGGENBUCK: it’s definitely playful and serious both. i cherish the “hero” relationship so much. my heroes are my biggest influences, some people are shaped more by their friends and family, but i’ve always looked to my artist and athlete heroes for strength and guidance. i feel like i owe these people an immeasurable amount, there are no words that can express what i owe to my heroes. it seems natural that in my own work, i’m trying to provide that kind of value/relationship for others too, “paying it forward.” when people tell me at events or online, “you changed my life” and “you’re my hero,” that’s what it’s all about for me. i’d give up anything else before giving up the opportunity to have that kind of impact in individual people’s lives.
so your phrasing “cultural hero” is interesting because it refers to something maybe less personal, more collective? i still think that’s an aim of mine. i would like to be an icon of appreciating the world, playfully, and trying hard to make it better. i think that could be a powerful role for me. but in my mind, that’s maybe secondary to the relationships with individuals.
FZ: In your YouTube video “Internet Bard,” you claim that you want to proudly take on the title of a “Poet,” & even one in line with the “Romantic” tradition. Your consistent references to poets such as Walt Whitman, ee cummings, & John Keats signal your awareness of poetry’s past. What significance does the history of poetry/poetry movements have for you?
SR: for a long time i was not passionate about the label “poet.” i would point to strict definitions of “poetry” and say the label was really meaningless. there’s no hard boundary of what you can call “poetry” versus what you can’t. every barrier has been destroyed. if you study much of 20th-century avant-garde lit, you’ll know you can call literally ~anything~ poetry based on the precedents that exist now. so i decided it makes more sense to think about it emotionally; what connotations does “poetry” have, and do i want to invoke those? there are some poor connotations relating to academia maybe, but for the most part i do like the connotations around “poetry” and even more, around “poet.” six years ago when i told my uncle i was a poet, he said, “tell me something wise about life,” or something.. it seemed funny to me at the time. but now i’m thinking, actually yes, i want that to be the public perception of my occupation. i will tell you wise things about life !! or i will try… i will strive to actually be the dreamer, the poet, and the idealist that most people are too busy or business-oriented to be.. my role is to remind people of carpe diem, of love, of nature.. and to say it in a way that is memorable, so it sticks with you. that’s a need that goes back through the millenia, and will continue as long as humans live. this is a deep tradition i get to be part of. i am a Poet
FZ: This book, as well as i am like october when i am dead, is pants-pocket size. Overall you seem to closely consider the visual/aesthetic aspects of your work for your readers. What motivates these types of decisions for you? Who has influenced you in this regard?
SR: i grew up in a visual culture, and i was not a bookworm growing up, i preferred sports! so i’m sorry to say i can relate to people who say “books are boring.” i appreciate design whether it’s in the poem proper, or in the book design around the poem. it took e.e. cummings’s visual experimentation to get me interested in poetry at all. since then i’ve appreciated what lisa jarnot (some other kind of mission), brandon downing (lake antiquity), and many others have done with visual collage poetry, concrete poems, etc. it seems obvious to me that i have to keep my work visual if i’m going to reach the people i want to reach
FZ: Here, in a departure from your past work, you primarily write in prose blocks. What about this form appeals to you?
SR: honestly it was almost entirely an economic decision. i wanted to pack a lot of value in a small book. with the moon book, i was able to create a $10 final product that has twice as many words as my previous book (which was $15). i broke up the prose blocks with some selfies and lineated poems and large font designs, so it didn’t feel overwhelmingly dense. obviously the prose blocks create stronger relationships between the various lines, so it invites you to read more into the juxtapositions. i liked playing with that in some cases. but honestly it was mostly just to increase the laughs per page / laughs per dollar, etc
FZ: Correct me if I’m wrong, but in the past year you seem to have somewhat removed “alt lit” from your “brand”/associations. I’ve heard you say that the trends of apathy, drug-use, & hip sadness don’t appeal to you, even that you see yourself consciously working against those trends. How do you currently view your relationship with “alt lit”?
SR: yes i’ve intentionally distanced myself from those trends. it’s been rough because i have so many amazing friendships within that community. often turning away from “alt lit” has meant turning away from long-time friendships. there’s a part of me that wants to kinda force myself to like those aesthetic trends, just as an effort to rebuild friendships in that community. i’ll never be totally gone from “alt lit” because i love those friends, and because they were my core suporters at such a crucial time. ideally i’ll be able to build more overtly positive community, too, though. Boost House will be a solid effort to do that. (more on Boost House below)
FZ: Although you seem to have very clear intentions, you often use fearless, “cute,” absurd humor that to some may seem arbitrary (but to others serves as one of your “boosting mechanisms” & even plays into your ~Buddhist & “YOLO” mentality). To you, what does humor mean in your approach?
SR: laughter is already something that has zen connotations; i think it totally makes sense to pair a sincere positive message with very goofy, playful humor–and humor that isn’t at others’ expense!! that’s an important aspect i think. that kind of playfulness is an important part of the attitude toward life that i want to model.
dang the humor is so exciting to me. when something has the power to make me laugh out loud–that’s so visceral and valuable to me.. i returned to a heavier use of goofy voices in my videos this summer, in the video “i am better than drake” especially; i’ve even been returning to more obscene sexual jokes, too, which i know are off-putting to some people. humor is maybe where i need to be the most relentless in doing exactly what i love, because it’s sooo intuitive.. i do want to reach a lot of people, but i can’t fake my sense of humor. sometimes this leads me to be more “random” than my audience is prepared for. most people want a little bit of randomness or quirkiness, presented in a context that gives it coherent meaning. sometimes i hit that sweet spot for them. but other times i just gotta let myself go all over the place hahah
FZ: When I spoke to you in San Francisco a year ago, you said that your poetry, macros, vlogs, etc. are important primarily as mediums that allow you to spread your optimistic message, to make positivity & deliberate happiness “cool.” Do you still feel that way? In other words, to you is your message more important than the “work”?
SR: yes i still feel that way. the overall impact of the style and the ideas and the energy is the biggest thing to me. when i think of walt whitman, it’s not like i admire him for “nailing” a certain poem. i admire him for repeatedly pouring out this beautiful self, and this beautiful worldview that has helped me to appreciate the world more
FZ: I’ve seen most recently your inclusion of feminism in your primary concerns; however, I haven’t heard you elaborate extensively on that subject. Can you tell us more?
SR: i should probably be refering to it as “anti-oppression” as a whole; i realy want to help draw attention toward the whole world of intersectional anti-oppression activism. bell hooks has been the most inspiring voice to me from that world, and she’s usually presented as a feminist, so that’s the term i’ve used most. i highly recommend the book feminism is for everybody by bell hooks. hooks’ vision is so radical yet so accessible and so loving. her insistence on the need to create a mass-based feminist movement gets me so fired up. i’m still in a learning role kind of, but i feel very confident that i will be more and more active in feminist and other anti-oppression activism going forward. i was careful to select people with this anti-oppression understanding in the Boost House application process
FZ: Your traveling around the US in 2012, your veganism, & now Boost House, among other things, highlight your insistence on trying to “practice what you preach,” putting into action your ideals. Can you tell us about your decision to create Boost House and its goals for those who don’t know?
SR: i’m really glad you recognize that “practice what you preach” thing !! one of the biggest principles for me is: actually do what you believe in; actually try to be the person you want to be during your life. so many people don’t even try to live their ideals or their dream.. i’m so grateful i’ve been gifted with high enough self-esteem to usually believe that i can succeed at my goals, but it’s still a continual effort to reflect on how i need to change my path, and follow through on doing it.
Boost House is my solution to many different things. first, i want to live with a bunch of positive creative friends; i love punk houses and co-op houses, that’s just the environment i want to live in!! second, i want to build more positive internet community, and i think a publisher is a great way to do that; we’ll produce books and blogs and other media, and do livestreams and events that cross-connect all these likeminded people and build real community between them, so they’re not just a bunch of individual, isolated readers. third, i need help with my existing projects too; i’m balancing so much, i need someone like a manager or assistant, i’m glad my BH friends can help me with some of my existing tasks. and fourth, i want to support a couple other ambitious artists who are trying to do something positive with their work, i want to give them the time to work hard on their art/etc, make sure their effort isn’t weakened by needing to spend 8 hr/day in some random unrelated job.
FZ: Some have drawn attention to the irony inherent in your “get out, look at the sky, you’re alive!” message & your compulsive use/support of the internet. Of course using the internet, from a relative perspective, can be just as meaningful, just as much “getting out into the world” as anything else. How do you view the tension/lack thereof between IRL & URL experience?
SR: last year i was making a lot of jokes about never going IRL, hating IRL, etc… but i moved away from that in 2013 because i realized that most people don’t use the internet like me. when i use the internet for 15 hours in a row, it’s because i’m actively using these platforms to spread a message i believe in, make individuals happy with my messages, and create career opportunities for myself. i get so pumped and happy doing that, and often the people i visit on tour don’t understand, they want me to go out IRL, and i felt alienated always saying “no,” so i started creating culture around this idea of staying online a lot, so i could feel pride about it. it felt funny and positive to me. but i realized that it’s actually very unhealthy for many people, mostly because usually people are in a passive use of the internet. for me, being online means working hard on what i love. for others it can mean endlessly seeking immediate gratification while ignoring more important things. and for either of us, it’s physically unhealthy when done in its extreme form. so this year i started emphasizing the appreciation of the moon, the rain, etc. i’ve even tweeted about my exercise routine (when i’ve been able to keep one up)
i do think that my online networking has improved my IRL life about 1,000,000%. the internet is an incredible tool to boost your IRL, to meet people and create opportunities for yourself. it’s very important to stay in that active usage, tho… try to stay conscious of what you’re doing most of the time, not just clicking/refreshing in a vague search of something to fill your emotional needs, etc. because that is very unlikely to work. getting out for a jog, journaling, meditating, or meeting an IRL friend will almost certainly work better for that.
thank you so mcuh !!!!!!